Essential New Music: Blur’s “The Magic Whip”


This really could not have gone better. Simply stated, The Magic Whip has all the hallmarks of Blur’s best work—bursting with ideas; intriguingly messy and exploratory, but never at the expense of a smart pop hook and groove; full of songs that are at once emotive and elusive, trenchant and tender—and it can stand proudly alongside anything else the band has done.

Whip effectively splits the difference between the sharp polish and pomp of Blur’s Britpop heyday and the maturity, restlessness and grit of its later work, particularly the looped and layered experimentation of 2003’s underrated Think Tank. But it’s hardly a backward-looking affair. There are gestures toward familiar Blur song “types”—punky riff-driven fuzzbombs (“I Broadcast”), classically melancholy Albarnian weepers (“New World Towers,” “Mirrorball”)—but most of these tracks do much murkier things, smudging the usual emotional and musical lines between rockers, ballads, pop songs and dirges, hearkening to the band’s past work in strange, unpredictable ways.

The quirky, bleep-blooping, dubiously cheerful “Ice Cream Man” strikes a curious counterpose to Blur’s jagged “Country Sad Ballad Man.” “There Are Too Many Of Us” (one of the band’s most striking, unsettling creations) is a strident, string-laden death march on themes of population overcrowding that comes on like a minor-key inversion of “The Universal.” (Here, and throughout, the backdrop of Hong Kong helps provide a fresh angle on familiar themes of globalization, consumer culture, world-weariness, alienation and distance.)

And then there’s the simple, alchemical miracle of hearing Graham Coxon’s indelibly scrawled guitar work once more sharing space with Damon Albarn’s yearning, bleary-eyed melodies—most poignantly on “My Terracotta Heart,” which directly confronts the band’s past estrangement. Magic, indeed.

—K. Ross Hoffman